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More affordable sensors offer greater opportunities for automation in mining

Published by , Assistant Editor
Global Mining Review,

Each autonomous vehicle system employs a set of sensors that provide environmental feedback for safety, navigation and other essential vehicle functions. Up until this point, sensors with high levels of accuracy have been too expensive for most users to afford, but that is rapidly changing.

From a vertically spinning LIDAR on a mining truck to a stereo camera on a Packbot , it is not uncommon to see any one of a number of sensors atop an unmanned vehicle at Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI). GPS, LIDAR, infrared, and vision-based sensor technologies play an integral role in any autonomous vehicle system. Feedback from a network of sensors and software algorithms enables an unmanned vehicle to essentially “see" what is going on in its environment and react intelligently. 

Unfortunately, sensors – which are generally the largest cost-driver in the autonomous system – and budgets do not always match up, forcing companies to sacrifice their desired level of accuracy for a more affordable sensor. Change is close, however, according to ASI's Jared Pratt. 

"As sensor prices have dropped and as the algorithms have improved to leverage lower cost sensors, more automation applications are showing a strong return on investment"said Pratt in a recent article by OEM-Off Highway's Sara Jensen. 


With the technology becoming more refined and with the addition of new manufacturers to the market, the automation industry observed a steady a decline in sensor prices over the last decade. "[When we started,] the price for one GPS unit with 2.5 cm accuracy was US$55 000," ASI's Director of Vehicle Automation, Mitch Torrie, told the International Resource Journal in 2013.

"Now it is more like US$7000." 

With sensors becoming more affordable, companies can leverage more benefits of autonomy such as more accurate position tracking and obstacle detection and avoidance.

"Our focus," continued Pratt, "is to leverage these advances across all our industries to lower the price point of the solution, thus enabling larger market segments to take advantage of the benefits of automation."

While the mining industry leads the way in adopting automation, lower sensor prices are opening up opportunities in other industries. Industries such as farming, industrial cleaning, security, materials handling and others that leverage smaller vehicles to do repetitive tasks are beginning to benefit from today's lower-cost sensors and automation.

"We are seeing many more applications on smaller vehicles that have substantial advantages," Pratt said.

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